FOXBOROUGH - It’s the kind of question being asked among Patriots fans in sports bars and dark taverns, probably with a beer or a buck on the line.
Since defensive end Andre Carter is now out with a season-ending injury, which Patriot suiting up against the Dolphins today at Gillette Stadium has the most sacks this year?
If you answered Mark Anderson, drink up or cash in.
Anderson, who has appeared in every game this year, has nine sacks, more than his past three seasons combined, which he spent with the Bears and Texans. He’s brought down the quarterback at least once in seven of the Patriots’ 14 games, starting with a sack in the opening win at Miami, and culminating in the two he had last Sunday against Tim Tebow and the Broncos.
He also forced and recovered a fumble in the 41-23 victory at Denver, which might go down as his Patriots’ coming-out party.
“I don’t know if I’d call it that,’’ Anderson said. “I think I’ve been playing pretty good throughout the season, holding my own.’’
Don’t feel bad if you weren’t aware that Anderson - he wears No. 95, for those who still don’t know - was having such a solid season. He’s been getting that a lot.
“Even before the Denver game I had friends calling me, saying, ‘Man, you’ve already got seven sacks? You’ve had a quiet seven sacks.’ That’s how it goes sometimes,’’ Anderson said. “I’ve had a quiet year. That’s how I like it to be. I like to fly under the radar.’’
That might be tougher for Anderson to accomplish now with Carter out the rest of the season. Signed four days apart in August, Anderson and Carter took a back seat to more decorated signees Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco when camp started. Haynesworth lasted eight games before being released. Ochocinco has just 14 catches.
Carter (10) and Anderson, though, have combined for 19 of the Patriots’ 33 sacks.
“Mark means a lot to our defense,’’ defensive end Shaun Ellis said. “He’s one of those high-energy, go-get-’em type of guys that every defense needs. I’m happy for him and proud of him. He’s played a lot of football. He’s been a good fit for us right away.’’
Anderson was a fifth-round pick by the Bears in 2006, and had 12 sacks as a rookie, which remains his season high. He also appeared in the Super Bowl his first season in Chicago, when the Bears lost to Indianapolis.
Fourteen months ago, five games into his fifth season, the Bears released Anderson, and a day later he signed with the Texans. After his standout rookie season, his production slipped: 9 1/2 sacks in his last 50 games with the Bears, four sacks in 11 games in Houston.
The Patriots made it three homes in less than 12 months for the 28-year-old Anderson when he signed Aug. 5.
“I set goals. I’ll tell you what they were after the season,’’ he said with a laugh. “I’ll say this: I expected to come in and make an impact in some kind of way. I think I’m on pace to make an impact, but my whole thing was to show everybody that I’ve still got it, that I can still play this game.’’
He’s been able to do that, even before last Sunday’s two-sack effort, which included a fumble forced and recovered.
“I think Mark has had a pretty solid year. He’s shown that he can play,’’ coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s been a pretty consistent player for us this year, in our preseason games, practices, regular-season games. He’s been productive.
“He primarily plays on the outside at the end of the line, which is what he did in college [at Alabama], what he did in Chicago - although Chicago did play him inside some - and at Houston. Good athlete, works hard on the field. He’s out there every day. Works hard, keeps getting better. It’s a good formula.’’
Anderson (6 feet 4 inches, 255 pounds) gives the Patriots a decent edge rusher, either as a defensive end when they’ve been in a 4-3 base, or as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, which is what the Patriots went to after Carter left the field last Sunday on a cart.
Being versatile means more opportunities for Anderson, who likes to describe himself as “laid-back off the field, and a lot of intensity and energy on it.’’ Being productive means more snaps.
“The only thing that was new was the outside linebacker position,’’ Anderson said, “but I did a little bit of that in Houston, we had a few packages where I was standing up rushing the passer. I think it kind of prepped me for New England.’’
From a numbers standpoint, he’s been better this season than almost everyone assumed he’d be. But this year’s body of work has mostly been put together without the glare of the spotlight, and some of the sacks have come with the game’s outcome already decided. Now that Carter is unavailable, the focus might shift a bit Anderson’s way.
“If I’m in the spotlight it’s not a big deal to me,’’ Anderson said. “We’re going to miss Andre, but everybody will have to step up and play their role. I knew I could do some things once I knew what my role was going to be.’’